The best roofing shingles for the job | Pro Construction Guide

Choosing the best roofing shingles for the job

Choosing the best roofing shingles for the job depends on many variables. “It depends on the pitch of the roof, the aesthetics of the home and the conditions that we find in the neighborhood,” says Dan Rheaume, owner of Raynproof Roofing in Seattle. “You’re not going to use the same material on a high-end home in the suburbs as on a tract home in the city.”

Check your local building code before buying shingles. “Contractors need to make sure that the roofing shingles they buy meet building code, because it’s not illegal to manufacture a product that doesn’t meet building code, but it’s illegal to install it,” says James Kirby, architect and assistant executive director of technical communications for the National Roofing Contractors Association.

Roofing shingle types

When choosing the best roofing shingles for the job, keep in mind that shingles may be made of asphalt, fiber-cement, clay, concrete, wood or slate. Asphalt shingles are the most common roofing material in the United States, and the most cost-effective. Asphalt shingles have three components: reinforcing material (usually fiberglass or organic material soaked in asphalt to create a waterproof barrier); asphalt laminate; and granules (usually ceramic).

Asphalt shingles come in varying thickness and designs, from standard flat-strip shingles to laminated or architectural shingles that mimic the look and feel of traditional shingles. Asphalt shingles and have a base of either fiberglass or organic material. Fiberglass-based asphalt shingles have a higher fire rating than shingles made with organic materials and are more lightweight.

“However,” says Kirby, “when it comes to installing shingles there is a bit of concern when you start getting into colder weather, where fiberglass becomes stiffer and leaves a little more potential to crack. Something that’s reinforced with organic material may be a little more flexible than fiberglass.”

Fiber-cement shingles “are really going by the wayside,” says Kirby. Because of significant performance issues, they are not used in most climates.

Clay and concrete tile shingles

Clay and concrete tile shingles are made of extruded clay or concrete that is then molded.

Clay and concrete tile shingles are made of extruded clay or concrete that is then molded. These types of shingles are ideal for Southwestern-style buildings.

Although clay and concrete tile shingles are very durable, they can break or chip under impact, and should not be used in areas that require high-impact resistant roofing. Also keep in mind, Kirby notes, that concrete tile and other materials with high potential for moisture absorption are more prone to crack during freeze/thaw cycles.

Wood shakes and shingles are either sawn (shingles) or split (shakes) from wood blocks. In the past, wood shingles were treated with preservatives to prevent the growth of mold, algae and fungus. The Clean Water Act prevents the use of these preservatives, so wood has a significant downside: It requires maintenance. New pressure-treated wood options may reduce maintenance and provide a good alternative to traditional wood shingles, but their track record is short.

Slate shingles are made from rock and are more expensive upfront than other roofing materials, but are actually very cost-effective because they typically last for 100 years or more. Slate is considered a premium material, because of aesthetics and the specialized training needed for proper installation. Slate can be increasingly more expensive the further you get away from where the rock was quarried. Because of hefty shipping costs, it’s wise to buy locally or consider another alternative.

Environmental factors

Environmental conditions can drive material selection. For example, for choosing the best roofing shingles for the job pay attention to any trees that overhang the roof.

“If there are a lot of overhanging trees that will deposit leaves and pine needles, they’ll eventually rot the roof if it’s not carefully maintained,” says Rheaume. “The debris will build in areas such as valleys and around skylights. For those types of roofs, we’d suggest something that will shed debris easily. Laminated shingles catch debris, and so we’d lean more toward a high-end, three-tab composition shingle, slate or other types of shingles that wouldn’t hold debris as easily.”

Underlayment is another important consideration when choosing the best roofing shingles for the job. ”You want to make sure that you use a high-quality underlayment, maybe even a double layer, to make sure that anything that gets past the tiles is not going to enter the building,” says Kirby. “Make sure the expected service life of your underlayment matches the effective service life of the material on top.”

Roofing shingle comparison

Shingle typeMaterials
cost (per sq ft)
Expected product lifeFire resistanceApprox. weight (per square foot)
Asphalt$ 0.62–0.8115–30 years UL Class A250 pounds
Fiber-cement $ 2.0040–50+ yearsUL Class A225 pounds
Clay or Concrete Tile$ 8.30 30–50 yearsUL Class A750 pounds
Wood Shakes or Shingles $ 2.5030–50 yearsUL Class B-C*250–400 pounds

*Pressure-treated woods are more fire-resistant
Source: National Roofing Contractors Association

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